Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Inexplicable Mindset of Men

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published May 31, 2012] © 2012

My expat friend Julia had to go out of town for several weeks on a family emergency and was surprised to return and find a veritable mountain of laundry waiting for her.  She’d expected laundry, of course, but commented that she had never realized that her husband Fred owned so many clothes.   Turned out that when she left, he hadn’t.  But as he ran out of clean clothes, he just kept buying more.  Weeks of more.

I laughed at this story because it’s just such a guy thing to do.  I emailed back that I thought this topic would make a great column about The Inexplicable Mindset of Men and did I have her permission to include this incident?

The response was instantaneous, even from the eight hour time difference in Paris:

“Do me a favor.  Make Fred the focus.”

Well, I would, except that Fred just has so much company.  My former husband, who had a penchant for losing things, had a similar philosophy to clothing.  Why stress about where your bathing trunks are?  Just buy twelve pairs.  I might have been more impressed by this strategy had he ever been able to find any of them. 

I put all of this under the heading of Useless Guy Tricks. The useless refers to the guy, not the tricks.

It is well documented that the sexes are doomed not to understand each other.  But as one who has lived in a male-centric household all her adult life (two husbands, two sons, male dog), weird behaviors of the male of the species has always been a topic of keen interest, if total bafflement, to me.   In some cases, one can only conclude that a wife is so much cheaper than a conservator. 

Interestingly, my second husband, Olof, has surprisingly few Useless Guy Behaviors, possibly the result of having been single for so long after his first marriage.  But like all men, he is indelibly afflicted with guy-gene-pool-embedded  Passive-Dependent Blindness:  you know, where a person of the male persuasion is standing in front of an open refrigerator with the mayonnaise dead center at eye level and says, “Do we have any mayonnaise?” 

Analogous to that is the universal male phenomenon of Ineffective Circular Search Behavior.  When men lose things, they will look in three places.  If they don’t find it, they will continue to look in those same three places in an endless pathetic futile loop.  I can only assume this is something that developed in the cave dwelling area and became hopelessly locked into male genes.  The cave wife would watch her guy circling the cave in increasing frustration looking for his club before she would step in and ask the question that became indelibly embedded in ours: “Well, where did you last see it?”  He grumbles, “How would I know?  If I knew that, I’d be able to find it!”

As she suspected, he left it outside the cave after he slew the mastodon.  (Can he ever put anything away after he finishes using it?)   She retrieves it.  But does she get thanks? Not a chance.

We recently watched our friend Jeff do the twenty-first century version of this when he was searching for a DVD he wanted to lend us.  After his third loop, his wife, Annie, went to have what she called “an Annie look” and came back with it immediately.  Annie did a quick review of the first three places Jeff had looked and found it.  A corollary of Ineffective Circular Search Behavior is that just because the husband didn’t find it there doesn’t mean it wasn’t there all along (see “mayonnaise”, above). 

But as my friend Julia discovered, go away for a few weeks and leave most men on their own, and they quickly revert back to useless guy behaviors.  Must be something in the Y (Why???????) chromosome.  They revert to eating from the Basic Four Guy Food Groups (deli takeout, pizza delivery, Mrs. Stouffers, and grilled burgers).  Despite being captains of industry, their global stewardship skills suddenly fail to extend to the operation of a washing machine that requires setting a dial to Wash and pushing a button marked Start.  The dishwasher’s operation equally becomes a subject of such complexity that its interior descends into a level of green fuzziness capable of generating new strains of penicillin.  Wife comes home to a house that looks like a refugee camp.  Which in a sense it was. 

So, Fred, you’re on warning.  Next time Julia heads out of town, you’d better up your game.  Because now the world is watching. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Underpants

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published May 17, 2012] © 2012

With the summer travel season upon us, a person’s thoughts just naturally turn to…underwear.

 My many friends who travel a lot have been lamenting for some time that they just can’t seem to resolve the underwear problem, especially if they’re going to be staying at a different place every night.  You wash out your dainties but depending on the climate, they never quite dry before you have to pack them up and move on.  My friend Gina says she toured Scotland and Ireland for seventeen days with a plastic baggie of clean but soggy unmentionables that were never truly dry until she got home and put them in her dryer. 

 The nightly washing ritual has a number of other downsides, not the least of which is having one’s undies draped all over one’s hotel bath, particularly if you’re staying in the $1,000 a night Scottish castle-cum-golf resort.  It just looks so, well, low class.  And might explain why those Scots don’t wear anything under their kilts.  They could just never get it to dry in that damp climate either.

 The main issue, of course, is that underwear just takes up so much room in your suitcase.  Room you’d rather have for souvenirs.  So several of my friends, including Gina, have been test driving other solutions including disposable underwear specifically meant for traveling.  Wear it once and toss it. 

Apparently, it is much more comfortable than one might imagine for cheap underwear, and thus begs the question as to why one would ever buy expensive underwear if the cheap disposable stuff is just as comfy.  But ours is not to reason why.  Another friend says that she has tried saving up all her old ratty underwear to bring with her to just throw away each night.  Yet another says she hits up the Dollar Store and buys a three-pack for $1.00.

 But here’s the problem:  while the plan is excellent, the execution has turned out to be less so.  At the moment of truth, they can’t quite bear to throw perfectly good underwear away.  Or even serviceable if elastically-challenged lingerie.  It just seems so wasteful. 

 The ratty underwear solution is even more problematic.  You’ve left a nice tip for the maid at the pricey French chateau so do you really want her to find your shabby dainties in the trash?  One can almost hear her mumbling under her breath, Merci, mais il vaut mieux peut-etre que vous gardiez votre argent pour vous offrir du linge moins fatigu├ęs.  (“Thanks, but maybe you should keep the money and buy yourself some new underwear.”)   The French can be so sarcastic.

 On a more fundamental basis, wearing ratty underwear also goes against everything that is holey, er holy.  Didn’t your mother always exhort you to wear good underwear in case you were in an accident?  Do you really want to end up in the Cap Ferrat Urgent Care in tattered u-trou?

Yet another friend says she is planning to solve the problem by buying the super-lightweight travel underwear that is guaranteed to dry within hours even in Indian monsoons.  The problem is, it is seriously expensive:  $20-$30 a pair, with men’s T-shirts running nearly $40.  Of course, if it truly dries that fast, you wouldn’t need very many pairs.  But if that monsoon thing was a bit of advertising hyperbole, you could be spending your trip feeling like a human terrarium. 

Stories of depending on a hotel laundry service are legion and usually involve sagas of a three week trip with one’s clean underwear doggedly following two days behind.  My husband, who travels a lot on business, knows well the perils of depending on a hotel laundry, especially in out-of-the-way places.  Olof tells the story of traveling to Indonesia and after a certain period of time, needing to get his laundry done.  His underwear had obviously enjoyed the pampered life of a U.S. washing machine but when he got it back from his Yogyakarta hotel, it was clear that it had undergone a far more vigorous manner of washing.  Best case, it had been beaten with rocks.  More likely, it had been subjected to a local cleansing method involving stampeding water buffalo.  Suffice to say, it was full of holes.  On the rest of his travels in Asia, he didn’t dare send his underwear out again, not only out of the sheer embarrassment that a “rich American” would have such shredded skivvies, but his wholehearted conviction that it would never survive a second experience.

 Weighing all the options, there’s really only one obvious conclusion.   If you really want to travel light, you’re just going to have to go commando.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

*Remodeling Our Estate Plan

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published, May 3, 2012] © 2012

You know you’re getting older when you catch your adult kids walking around with a tape measure envisioning the remodel after you’re dead.  Actually, in our younger son’s case, he’s sort of hoping for the remodel before we’re dead.  “You could really do something with this place,” he enthuses hopefully when he and his wife and the kids and dog are down for the weekend.  He envisions at minimum a second story master suite angled to maximize what would be an unobstructable ocean view, a wrap-around front porch for waving to the neighbors in our family-friendly neighborhood, and reconverting the ill-considered 1955 garage remodel back into a garage (amen to that).   We’re very clear that his fantasies include a remodel to his specifications on our dime.
We couldn’t agree more that this tiny house on a prime lot could be a morphed into a really fantastic place.  It’s had a lot of interior upgrades over time but it is still the original 1947 footprint.  Its 1600 square feet (including the converted garage) felt enormous when my ex and I bought it in 1973, much smaller when we added two kids, positively palatial when the kids departed, and now totally sardine-ish when both kids and families show up.  We think it will make a wonderful remodel for someone.  But we’re not those someones. 

I’ll confess that a part of me has always regretted that the timing was never right for that view remodel (divorce, college bills etc.).  As we’ve explained to the kids, the house, the cars, and their educations are finally paid for.  Definitely not looking for more debt, except at tax time when we realize our deduction-less tax burden singlehandedly supports several branches of state and federal government.
We’ve told our younger son that we think all of his remodel ideas are wonderful and that we will be happily looking down (or up) on them when the time comes.  He actually owns his own house in L.A. so it’s not like he and his family don’t have a nice roof over their heads.  But I think if you grow up in La Jolla, you never lose the draw to this place. 
Of course, the other way you know you’re getting old besides the kids standing on the roof with a sketch pad is you have to set up those nagging Living Will instructions.  (It’s  pretty much all down hill once you wake up on your 50th birthday and find both an AARP card and an appointment for a routine colonoscopy in the mail.)  But one does have to decide at some point who will make decisions for one’s health care once neither you nor your spouse are able to.  Did we want to appoint our older son, the clinical social worker who runs programs for the homeless and has done hospice care?  Or should we go for the younger son who has an MBA?
In our fantasies, the social worker kid is sitting by our bedside adjusting our blankets and patiently listening to our endless repetitious stories as he quietly strokes our hands.  The MBA kid, we envision, is parked on the other side, iPod ear buds cranked up to 120 decibels to drown out the annoying stories, comforting us with one hand, and calculating the negative cash flow of long term care on his Blackberry with the other.  Next thing we know, Pffft! Someone accidentally trips over the plug and we’re buried in the back yard.
 For the record, the MBA kid does not find this story funny at all, insisting that a business degree would hardly prevent him from making compassionate decisions about our care.  And besides, he points out, there’s barely enough room in the back yard to park the two of us without disrupting the entire irrigation system.  And where’s the economy in THAT? 
Actually, said my husband, Olof, the tripping over the plug part, intentionally or not, didn’t sound half bad. Put us out of our misery.  Besides, for all we know, it was the social worker kid, driven cumulatively mad after the 500th repetition of the infamous dead possum incident, whose foot suddenly intersected with the power cord.  And if it came right down to it, burying us in the back yard (despite being massively illegal) actually sounds kind of charming given our fondness for the place.  But one request:  when you do the remodel, can we have a spot with a view?